This past Remembrance Day marked the last year the ceremony would be held at the old Whalley Branch 229 of the Royal Canadian Legion as the “Veterans Village” nears groundbreaking.
The branch was started up in 1947 by some 40 war veterans and its charter was received the following year. The old hall has been a gathering place for thousands of members over the years.
“I know it was significant for the branch as they’re in the process of temporary relocation while the development occurs, so technically that would have been the last Remembrance Day Ceremony in their former branch,” Rowena Rizzotti, vice-president of Healthcare and Innovations at Lark Group, told the Now-Leader. “So that’s why it was significant this year.”
The Veterans Village will be constructed on the existing Whalley Legion Branch 229 site and include a “centre of excellence,” where veterans, soldiers and emergency first-responders will be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health-related concerns.
|Rowena Rizzotti (PHOTO: Submitted)|
The village will also include a research and rehabilitation centre focusing on robotics and devices to help amputees, exoskeletons, and neuroscience as well as temporary housings for patients and their families, a healing garden and new legion lounge.
The design plans for the Royal Canadian Legion’s first “Veterans Village,” in Surrey’s City Centre, have been tweaked for the third time in as many years with this major project expected to be brought before city council for consideration in February.
“The design plan has completely changed,” Yvonne Chiang, of CHIANG PR, told the Now-Leader this week. “They’ve gone through a few revisions since last year.”
The $60-million project, which was unveiled at a press conference at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus in September 2015, at the time featuring 20 to 28 storeys aimed at providing health care and assisted living for veterans, is expected to be built on Royal Canadian Legion land in Whalley. The monumental twin-tower complex’s first look was reminiscent of the Canadian Vimy Ridge Memorial in France, featuring bright vertical fields of red poppies reaching high into the sky, adorning the facade of Canada’s first Veterans Village.
Lark Group President Larry Fisher has said his Surrey-based firm, which has been in business since 1972, is “proud to be working with the Royal Canadian Legion on this highly anticipated project.”
Last year, and currently, designers have opted for a single tower. Roughly one year after the unveiling, the Royal Canadian Legion was then looking to build one tower instead of two during the first phase of the development.
Sandy Reiser, executive director of the Royal Canadian Legion, BC/Yukon Command, explained last year the two-tower structure would “apparently” be too difficult to achieve. She expected phase one of the project would take about 18 months to build. “It won’t be two (towers) in phase one,” she said in 2016.
(Artists’ rendering November 6, 2016 — image: Lark Group)
“There is a critical shortage of services here at home and across Canada to support and address the health care needs and re-integration of our veterans who return home to their families with requirements for urgent clinical care, both physical rehabilitation and PTSD,” Reiser said at the time. “This flagship project will be the first in Canada and we are excited to see the project moving forward so quickly.”
The village might also include market rental housing, she said.
Rizzotti said Tuesday that the number of storeys is in the process of being “refined.”
“Members of the Lark team are actually up at the City of Surrey right now, as we speak,” she said. “The city is working right now with the developer on just refining exactly the exterior presentation of the building, because they really want to get it as close to that Vimy Ridge, that original architectural image.”
City council is expected to consider first reading in early February, and if the project wins approved, the ground-breaking is anticipated for spring.
Asked what will become of the homeless people living in tents nearby, once this monumental construction gets underway, Rizzotti said “incremental” steps are being prepared to help them.
“Working again in collaboration with the City of Surrey, we recognize that they have a number of initiatives underway to support the population that are currently residing on 135A,” Rizzotti said. “In addition, one of the beauties of this development is the main building will in fact face the City Parkway, which is on the western side of the property, and the temporary parking lot will be on the east part of the property which essentially is closest to the 135A.
“In the interim we know the City of Surrey is developing a homeless shelter elsewhere in the city, as well as they have announced interim housing, that they are in the process of initiating straight away, so we trust that each of these incremental steps will help support that population.”
Meantime, Chiang said phase one of this multiphase project will include an occupational rehabilitation centre, legion hall and medical clinic. “That’s all in the first phase.”
“It’s been selected as one of the mayor’s nexus projects,” she said. “It’s the first time I think the city has gone through a real nexus project.”
It’s still early days in the approval stage, Chiang noted. “Very early. They literally just submitted it in the last two weeks. They had a big pow-wow strategy session with the city as of last week. It has to go through second, third reading, and fourth, depending on how that goes. But this is the first time any of them has actually gone through a nexus program, so they don’t know how fast the fast-track program is supposed to be.
“It’s been very fast in terms of the initial process.”
Chiang said designs have been updated to reflect the operators’ needs and the legion’s needs so this multiphase project “kind of gets put ahead and there’s no delays in terms of the application.”
“The two red design elements there are supposed to be Vimy Ridge-esque and so that’s kind of how currently the design is reflected.
(First concept drawings for the huge health centre for veterans, to be built in Whalley, were unveiled in September 2015. (PHOTO: Tom Zytaruk).
“I think they want to make this really a model for all the rest of Canada, so they really want to make this impressive. It’ll be even more impressive once all of the operators go in there with all their services; this is specifically proposed for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and mental health, plus there’s the affordable housing side to everything. So it’s not just the legion now — it’s everything built into one.”
Inga Kruse, executive director of the legion’s British Columbia/Yukon command, has said proponents are engaging the health care sector and all levels of government for support.
“This is going to be our legacy, this building,” Kruse said earlier on in the project. “We’re learning as we go. Basically, we’ve bitten off the first bite of an elephant. We’re going to eat it all, but it will take time.”
Marc Tremblay, president of the Royal Canadian Legion, said the project “promises to transform the way health care is delivered to Canadian veterans, soldiers and seniors all across the country.
“This project is an innovative facility offering services to its surrounding communities and meeting veterans’ needs today and into the future.”